I love family photos. I love taking them, I love looking at them. When I was a little girl I loved nothing better than a visit to either of my grandparents' houses where I would pore over photo albums documenting family vacations and events big and small. My aunties are great scrapbookers, and they have archived decades of family gatherings, trips, haircuts both successful and regrettable. Their photo books chart fashion eras, home decor fads, cousins coming of age, and most of all they tell us that time really does fly.
In the age of digital and social media, memory preservation looks a lot different than it used to. We don't always print photos anymore, we stream or share them. Photos aren't just family photos, they're social networking tools. And sometimes, as I scroll through Instagram or Facebook, I wonder how much of our memory sharing is about preservation and how much of it is about creating a brand. Of course when I post pictures on Facebook or Instagram, I want to put my best foot forward, so to speak, so I filter or edit out the less-than-picturesque bits -- the chaos in the mudroom, the dustbunnies, the dark circles or crow's feet around my eyes, and I accentuate the positive. I slap on some lip gloss and zoom in on one of the good intentions that made it past my wishlist and I share that with all my friends. And acquaintances. And other moms who, if they're anything like me, feel pretty overwhelmed a lot of the time and carry around more than a little guilt about all the fun or productive or meaningful memory-making they wanted to do with their little people today but probably didn't because they had laundry to fold or multiplication tables to teach or errands to run or a friend to visit with or a shower to take. But the picture doesn't show all of that, because I've taken pictures of dust bunnies before and they're gross and who would want to share them, and I'm not sure how to photograph Guilt but when I figure it out I'll let you know. So there I am accentuating the positive and my brand becomes Frost-Filtered-Homemaker-Earring/Baby-Wearer-Who-Reads-Aloud-To-Her-Kids-All-The-Time. Even though my actual persona is Busy-Mother-Trying-To-Capture-Snapshots-Of-Beauty-And-Peace-In-the Midst-Of-Chaos. Putting my best foot forward, I'm not really telling the whole truth. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but sometimes the whole truth takes more like two thousand.
This is exactly the problem. We forget that, online, we're not always our actual selves. We're the image of ourselves. This image may not have much to do with who we really are, how we actually feel, what we actually do, because, of course, we're trying to be positive and prove to ourselves that our lives have picture-worthy moments too. The trouble is that many people on the receiving end of that image think it's the real thing, and so they look at other family's photos and sigh and wish they were one of the happy, chill moms who let their kids get out the glitter glue at any time of the day. It becomes a vicious cycle - the effort of one person to remind themselves that their life is beautiful becomes a measure for another person to live up to.
The immediacy of photo sharing has changed things too. I remember back in the Dark Ages having to wait at least an hour to get my photos processed. Now, I snap a pic and post it within seconds, fully edited and framed and hashtagged. And the options for improving that photo are limitless. Glance over any photography Pinterest board and you'll find tips for how to get more Instagram followers, how to use Photoshop, how to pose. Always use the same filter, put your hand on your hip, be clever but direct about hashtags...It's not that there's anything wrong with using technology to take the best photos we can, it's just that sometimes it feels like we're more focused on the share than on remembering the original experience. A great yoga instructor once told me when we experience a thing -- a sunset, a meal, a feeling -- our efforts to describe the experience take us out of the moment, until we're experiencing the description instead of the original event. I think it's this way with our modern means of memory preservation - sometimes the result and the feedback are so immediate, they influence our record of the event or even the event itself.
My aunties and grandparents were primarily interested in preserving memories for themeslves and their posterity. They just wanted photographic evidence that they made that trip to Yellowstone, that all the siblings and cousins were together that day in 1990, that they saw that rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. They weren't planning for all of their friends and relations and acquaintances to see and comment on each of those events, they saved that privilege for the few who were invited over for the slideshow viewing. They weren't creating a brand. Glennon Melton over at Momastery has said people can use their online persona or brand to do things at each other. We post our Saturday morning breakfasts or 4 layer birthday cakes at each other to prove that we're okay, we're justified, we're right with God and the world. Maybe we've got it wrong. Maybe we should take a page out of our grandparents' photo albums, the titles of which could easily be, "See, kids, we did have fun sometimes!" If I'm really telling the truth, that could be my caption to myself for every photo that I share. Through that tight spot between my shoulder blades, the mess in the pantry I'm trying to ignore, the lunch dishes that have yet to be taken care of, the sharp words I wish I could unsay, the great unnamed Something for my kids I may or may not be able to identify and get around to today, I can take some photos and remind myself, "Look! WE DO FUN THINGS! Our little life is messy, but it's great!"
Look! We throw rocks in the river!
Look! We sit on the sun-bathed porch!
Look! We love each other!
Look! We go to the movies!
Look! We take ferry rides!
Look! We do the Ciderfest!
Look! We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and we go to the orchard!
Look! We build forts!
We're discovering that peace isn't an ethereal, far-off, pie in the sky concept. It's here, right here, in the middle of all the chaos and the stress and the lack of sleep and everything else. It's active, it's the sometimes tenacious belief that THIS IS THE LIFE. Peace is right here, if I look for it. Peace is where we find it.
The thing is, I'm not posting these pictures at you. I'm posting them AT ME! My brand is a byproduct of what I'm trying to do: remind myself of what's actually true. Sometimes when I glance around my life, I focus on the to-do list, the work, the messes, and the backdrop of peace and beauty is a little blurry. Sometimes the camera lens is the tool that helps me focus on those things. And when I look my friends' photos, I could stand to remember that that's probably true for them too.
And also it's a good idea print some pictures and put them in an album in case this whole internet thing doesn't work out.